Seattle Police Chief Diaz's department shake-up
Seattle Police Chief John Diaz's shake-up of the police department and review of training ought to lead to a balance in the department between good crime fighting and strong community relations.
A SERIES of police incidents has shaken the public. Police Chief John Diaz has had no other choice than to be visible and vocal. The chief's shake-up of the department and emphasis on training are welcome additions.
Nine captains will take on new roles, including greater efforts to improve community relations headed by Deputy Chief Nick Metz. This was all brought to a head by the August shooting of John T. Williams, a Native American totem carver, by Seattle police Officer Ian Birk. Williams was homeless, a chronic inebriate and hard of hearing.
Diaz has agreed to calls for the department to submit its complete investigation of the shooting to police departments outside the region for peer review. This kind of transparency is critical. The community is watching.
In addition, the department will issue more Tasers. Birk didn't have a Taser when he shot Williams. And 40 officers will be equipped with personal video cameras to record interactions with the community.
More officers will be trained to deal with people who have mental illnesses or other problems and the department will push for ways to get officers out of their cars and on foot and bike patrols.
Few issues stir more community anger and passion than charges of racial profiling and aggressive policing. Two other controversial incidents include an officer who punched a 17-year-old African-American girl after she shoved him during a jaywalking incident, and two officers who kicked a prone Latino man and used racially inflammatory language.
The department has not always appeared to be forthright about these incidents. For example, police initially said Williams brought on the shooting by advancing on the officer, but they later retreated from that statement.
The public rightly wants a balance between strong law enforcement and good community relations.
Getting us there won't happen overnight. Chief Diaz has started the shift.